IPTV figures recorded by Broadcasting Authority might be 'inaccurate'

Video-on-demand subscriptions are on the rise but IPTV figures recorded in latest Broadcasting Authority claimed that they held 8.2% of Malta's total audience share

Video-on-demand subscriptions are on the rise but IPTV figures recorded in latest Broadcasting Authority report may be 'inaccurate'
Video-on-demand subscriptions are on the rise but IPTV figures recorded in latest Broadcasting Authority report may be 'inaccurate'

Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) – the streaming of film and television productions via Internet – held 8.2% of Malta’s total audience share, according to the latest ‘Radio & Television Audience Assessment’ released by the Broadcasting Authority.

The figure would suggest that some 30,637 or almost one out of every five households in Malta are now watching television using IPTV services – a figure which, retailers who spoke to MaltaToday insist, could be higher.

The BA’s head of research, Mario Axiak, himself confirms the rate of take-up of IPTV is probably far higher than suggested. “The figure may not be factual due to the illegal nature of households using such services, and their reluctance to divulge such information when conducting research exercises.”

IPTV is a simple concept: instead of receiving TV programmes broadcast over the rooftop antenna, satellite dish or fiber-optic cable, users are streaming – download and play simultaneously – programmes through their Internet connection. One can then watch the programmes either on a computer or with a set-top box like an android box.

Traditional paid TV subscriptions, such as services offered by Melita and GO still reign as the most used service for television entertainment

Many technology experts used to warn that low bandwidth speed was the Achilles’ heel of IPTV, however with recent local Internet service providers offering fiber-optic, high bandwidth internet, this may very be a thing of the past.

Indeed, the Malta Communications Authority in June reported a stronger take-up of faster broadband subscriptions, citing the attraction of TV streaming services as the main reason.

The pay TV sector that is held by telcos GO and Melita has seen its subscriber base shrink by 1.1% year-on-year, from 149,378 subscriptions at the end of 2015 to 147,756 subscriptions at the end of the current reporting period.

“One common explanation to this trend is the rise in the popularity of online video streaming services, like YouTube, Netflix, Skype and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV),” the MCA said in its market review for July-December 2016.

A Maltese IPTV provider who wished to remain anonymous confirmed the abundance of such services. Speaking to Malta Today he described the percentage reported in the BA assessment as “far from accurate”.

“A good number of Maltese households do subscribe to traditional cable services such as GO and Melita, but this is mainly to acquire the basic channels”.

According to him, the vast majority of people are nowadays opting for IPTV when assessing the premium paid for the entertainment packages provided by IPTV, compared to GO and Melita entertainment packages.

The provider said that the notion of high cable TV premiums has always been something which made people seek other cheaper services, apart from the fact that “for less money, you get more stuff” with IPTV – semi-legal though it might be.

“In the past we had the phenomenon of cracked decoder cards, where premium satellite television was provided, however although this was a ‘cheaper’ service, it required a substantial start up investment. IPTV has successfully moved away from huge start up fees while still offering the same service.”

IPTV can be easily set up on a number of different devices, such as traditional computers, tablets, smart phones and android set boxes.

Another local IPTV seller who spoke to MaltaToday claimed that he provides 5,000 channels raging from live sports, high quality movies and documentaries, with exclusive TV packages such as Sky Sports and BT Sports that can be acquired for a fraction of the price one pays in countries like the UK: £38 (€41.47) a month.

And getting the same live sports package offered by IPTV providers through traditional cable TV subscriptions would require a household to have at least both GO and Melita – a monthly bill of at least €44.

Last July the British High Court issued a ‘blocking order’ that would effectively shut off the Internet of people who illegally stream Premier League football matches. The Premier League’s director of legal services, Kevin Plumb, told the BBC that the blocking order was “a game-changer in our efforts to tackle the supply and use of illicit streams of our content”.

The order means that Internet Service Providers in the UK will have the power to shut down the connection of people, refraining them from streaming matches.

But a Maltese provider said it was impossible to completely stop streaming.

“If you do a quick search on eBay or any other marketplace you’ll find tons of sellers who provide the same service, with a little bit of extra work from your end.”

The BA’s Audience Assessment report also found that Internet based services like Netflix and Amazon Prime TV, encompassed 17% of the total audience share, surpassing the audience share of both IPTV and satellite services combined (8.2% and 7.8%) respectively.

Internet-based services like Netflix offer content on demand delivered in high-quality format; these services are usually multi-platform oriented and bolster user-friendliness, something which could explain the assessment’s demographical aspect which claimed that such services were more popular with people aged 31-50 years of age.

Traditional paid TV subscriptions, such as services offered by Melita and GO still reign as the most used service for television entertainment as they registered a 91.5% audience share. A standard TV service offering basic local channels and a variety of Mediaset stations will set customers some €9.99 off a month while a basic Internet service subscription like Netflix costs €7.99.

A 2016 report conducted by British media regulator Ofcom concluded that traditional television viewing amongst millennials (people aged 16-24) had dropped by 36% in two years: a worrying trend for media houses whose loss in audience ultimately leads to a loss in commercial revenue.

The BA’s Mario Axiak, who for the past years has seen the waning and waxing of TV numbers, doesn’t yet believe that innovation and new technology will kill the traditional entertainment TV programme. If anything the BA survey confirms the popularity of Maltese television. “They will all survive,” he said.